My latest from Al Jazeera.
Last March, my older brother and I traveled to the West Bank. At some point we entered the settlement of Ariel. Overwhelmed by its size and maze-like streets, we managed to get lost in what can only be described as a little city. As we tried to leave, we found ourselves going in circles. In a moment of slight frustration, my brother, who was driving, turned to me and said, “I think we’re stuck here.”
The degree to which my brother’s observation is correct has become a major bone of contention between the Obama administration and Israel. In Cairo, Obama’s challenged the regional powers to prove that they are part of the solution, not the problem. For Israel, that meant a complete freeze on all settlement activity and an endorsement of the two-state principle.
Obama’s uncompromising position on the settlements and on peace left Netanyahu stuck between a rock and a hard place. Compliance with Obama’s demands meant losing political support. On the other hand, siding with the pro-settlement block, meant significantly damaging relations with the US (something the Israeli public will not forgive).
In an attempt to forge a way out of this impasse, Netanyahu delivered a speech yesterday in which he inched towards Obama by endorsing a two-state solution. “In my vision of peace,” Netanyahu said, “there are two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good neighborly relations and mutual respect, each with its flag, anthem and government, with neither one threatening its neighbor’s security and existence.”
However, with a nod to his hawkish political bloc, Netanyahu’s vision was not without formidable qualifications. The prime minister made it clear that any future Palestinian state will a) have to be demilitarized (i.e. no army or control over air space), b) recognize Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people, c) relinquish aspiration to a shared capital in Jerusalem, and d) unequivocally drop the right of return of Palestinian refugees into Israel proper.
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